Easter is upon us which means it’s time for hot cross buns!
Many, myself included, consider hot cross buns in a Christian context – they are historically eaten on Good Friday to remind people of the day Jesus died on the cross. You have the bread (as per the communion), the spices (representing the spices in which Jesus was wrapped in the tomb), and the cross.
However, looking into the history and tradition of hot cross buns, I have found many contradictory theories – some say that they go back to Roman times, that they are a Saxon thing, and even that they are traditionally pagan rather than Christian. There’s a suggestion that a 12th Century monk first incised a cross on a bun, yet another theory ties the tradition of the buns to a monk in 14th Century St Albans. Further references tie them only into the Easter tradition from the Elizabethan era. It is suggested that they were viewed with suspicion by some Protestants and that legal moves were made to restrict their consumption to Easter and some other festive periods.
So basically, no one seems to know where hot cross buns really originated from. But as far as I’m concerned, in my family they are eaten at Easter and they are delicious. That’ll do for me.
Below is Delia Smith’s hot cross bun recipe (with a few small changes).
For the buns:
150ml warm water (for the yeast)
50 g caster sugar, plus 1 teaspoon (for the yeast)
1 tablespoon dried yeast
450 g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon mixed spice (or speculoos spice)
75 g currants
50 g cut mixed peel
50 ml warm milk
1 egg, beaten
50 g butter, melted
For the crosses:
For the glaze:
First stir 1 teaspoon of caster sugar into 150 ml warm water (NOT hot water – just warm water from the tap – if the water is too hot it will kill the yeast), then sprinkle in the dried yeast and leave it until a frothy ‘beer’ head forms. Don’t expect there to be a large amount of froth. 8-10 minutes is enough time to wait.
Meanwhile, sift the flour, salt and mixed spice into a mixing bowl and add the remaining 50 g of sugar, as well as the currants and mixed peel. Then, make a well in the centre, pour in the yeast mixture plus 50 ml of warm milk (again, not too hot), the beaten egg and the melted butter. Now mix it to a dough, starting with a wooden spoon and finishing with your hands (add a little more milk if it needs it).
Transfer the dough on to a clean surface and knead it until it feels smooth and elastic. Then pop it back into the bowl, cover the bowl with lightly oiled clingfilm, and leave it in a warm place to rise – it will take about an hour to double its original size. Then turn it out and knead it again, back down to its original size.
Divide the mixture into 12 round portions and arrange them on the greased baking sheet (allowing plenty of room for expansion). Leave them to rise once more, covering again with oiled clingfilm, for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 220°C.
To make the crosses, use a flour-and-water paste made with 110 g plain flour and approximately 4 tablespoons of water. Add a little more water if needed. Roll out thinly and divide into small strips, slightly dampening them to stick them on to the buns.
Bake the buns for about 15 minutes. While they’re cooking, melt 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water for the glaze over a gentle heat and brush the buns with it as soon as they come out of the oven, to make them nice and sticky.
Serve warm – enjoy them fresh out of the oven with a lick of butter. If you don’t eat them immediately, be sure to heat them up in the oven for 5 minutes before serving!